It was an exercise aimed at giving the impression of a cohesive unit at work. When Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejaswi went to address an election rally at Raghopur in Bihar’s Vaishali district, he ensured that the venue had flags of all three parties of the coalition he is representing. He reportedly thanked the leaders of the Congress, the RJD and the Janata Dal (United) for choosing him as the coalition’s nominee from the constituency. A leading English daily has reported that even the audio clip that was played at the venue had slogans supporting leaders from all the coalition partners.
Tejaswi could have avoided mentioning leaders of his coalition partners, given that Raghopur is considered a RJD bastion. Lalu Prasad himself has represented this constituency twice. And former chief minister Rabri Devi too won the seat in 2005. But the fact that Tejaswi chose to project himself as the candidate of the “grand alliance” even in his home turf shows that he and other leaders of his party seem to be showing commitment to the alliance. Contrary to expectations, the RJD and the JD (U), two of the major parties of the three-party alliance, handled seat sharing arrangement smoothly. Even the process of selection of candidates passed off without any major hiccup.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit in the state, on the other hand, is giving the impression of a divided house. Recent statements of three members of Parliament and one sitting member of the state Legislative Assembly indicate that all is not well within the party. Protests have come from within about the selection of candidates and also about applying different rules while fielding relatives of party leaders. Even the BJP’s coalition partners have expressed disappointment at the seat sharing arrangement among allies.
The cohesion, or lack of it, both in letter and spirit, is going to be one of the three key variables that will have a bearing on the eventual outcome of the elections.
The second, and most important, variable is whether there is a consolidation of other backward classes (OBCs) votes or not. Right after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief’s statement hinting at a review of the reservation policy, the RJD and the JD (U) have left no stone unturned to project the BJP as a party that is against the interests of the OBCs. In fact, Lalu Prasad has on social media aggressively criticised the RSS chief’s statement. The choice of the issue as well as the medium to spread the message seems to be intended to reach out to the OBCs, especially the younger lot. A large section of the OBCs had voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Lalu Prasad’s aggressive espousal of what has come to be known as Mandal 2 is aimed at reversing that trend.
The third variable in the forthcoming elections is going to be whether Asaduddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is able to split the Muslim votes or not. AIMIM is contesting in 24 assembly seats in Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region. The BJP had a lacklustre performance in this region even in the wave elections last year. If Owaisi is able to split votes of the minority community and there is counter-polarisation of Hindu votes, the region and its adjoining areas may well see a different result this time.